In this article, Simon Borg and Jon Parnham write about the benefits of mentoring schemes in the context of a large-scale teacher development project in India.

Author: 
Simon Borg and Jon Parnham
ELISS mentors celebrating their achievements at the end of project symposium event

Introduction

There are approximately 1.3 million secondary school teachers of English in India and, given this scale, State Education Departments across the country have been inclined to favour models of professional development which reach large numbers of teachers. The most prevalent of these models over the years has been the cascade model, in which a cadre of Master Trainers is initially trained and subsequently goes on to train further groups of teachers. Despite some advantages (Hayes, 2000), cascade models of professional development have been the subject of various criticisms (e.g. Kennedy, 2005), with particular concerns about content dilution as it is passed down the cascade and the fact that teachers do not receive any support to help them implement the ideas they receive during the training in their classrooms.

The English Language Initiative for Secondary Schools (ELISS) - a four-year partnership project between the British Council and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyaan – RMSA - was originally designed using a cascade approach, but subsequently moved to a mentoring model of professional development in its third and fourth years. In this blog we will discuss how this model was organised, what the mentors did and some benefits and learning points that have been highlighted by our evaluation of this mentoring phase of ELISS.

Mentoring on ELISS

Mentoring is a process through which teachers are supported in their learning and development through individual support from a more experienced or expert colleague with whom they develop a relationship of trust over time (see Asención Delaney, 2012). Mentoring embodies many features which are considered to be important in promoting effective professional development (see, for example, Gulamhussein, 2013): it supports teacher learning over time, is based on and feeds back into what happens in classrooms, stimulates reflection, and encourages a positive, collegial collaborative relationship between mentors and teachers.

Mentors can fulfil many roles (Malderez and Bodoczky, 1999). They can act as models that inspire and demonstrate expected professional behaviours or acculturators who can show (especially novice) teachers the ropes. As sponsors, mentors can help open doors for teachers, while mentors also provide support for their mentees by acting as a cathartic sounding board. Finally, mentors can take on the role of educators who create learning opportunities for their mentees.

In Year 3 of ELISS, 80 of the original cohort of 420 Master Trainers were selected to work as mentors with up to 15 teachers each in their local areas. In Year 4, a further 340 Master Trainers became mentors, enabling more than 6000 teachers of English to have access to this support. All mentors attended five days of mentor training. The target was for mentors to visit each of their mentees three to four times each year. Each visit involved a pre-lesson meeting, a lesson observation and a post-lesson discussion. Through the mentoring, teachers were encouraged to reflect on their lessons and to write action plans related to specific aspects of their work they wanted to develop. Mentors also organised three to four workshops a year where all their mentees came together. In addition, each mentor and their mentees interacted regularly on WhatsApp and this was another source of support for the teachers. In ELISS, therefore, mentors take on the role of models (e.g. in workshops when they demonstrate activities), motivators (e.g. during post-lesson discussions), support (e.g. when they respond to teachers queries on WhatsApp), and educators (e.g. when they provide input that enhances teachers’ knowledge).

The mentoring work was institutionalised through a Government Resolution which outlined the responsibilities of mentors, teachers, Head Teachers, Education Officers and other important stakeholders – in India, this was an important step to give the mentors credibility in the eyes of others invested in the education system.

Benefits for mentors and mentees

Over a two-year period, the project was externally evaluated for quality assurance purposes and to assess the impact of mentoring on the mentors and their mentees. The evaluation involved focus group interviews (with mentors and teachers), classroom observations of teachers and observations of mentors during pre- and post-observation meetings with their mentees. This evaluation revealed that the mentors and mentees saw many benefits of being a part of the mentoring programme in ELISS. For mentors, these included:

  • increased confidence in supporting teachers
  • better understanding of the links between educational theories and classroom practices
  • enhanced credibility in the eyes of their peers.

Some benefits mentioned by teachers were:

  • increased confidence in teaching interactively
  • improved communication and reflection skills
  • increased opportunities to network with peers.

Additionally, both mentors and teachers said that the mentoring programme had given them increased motivation for and interest in professional development.

Learning points

Although reactions from mentors and teachers involved in the ELISS mentoring scheme were very positive, there were, as one would expect in an innovative, large-scale and logistically-challenging project of this kind, a number of challenges. Below we summarise three learning points stimulated by these challenges.

1. Administrative support is vital.

The mentoring programme assumed that mentors would be given five hours a week of official time to mentor teachers and that they would be allowed to visit teachers in other schools. In most cases the first of these points was not realised, and it was not uncommon for mentors to report difficulties in obtaining permission to leave their school to visit teachers elsewhere. While administrative support at state level had been secured, it was clear that more work was needed with Head Teachers and other local officials to enable them to understand the purpose and value of mentoring and to obtain their full support for it.

2. Effective mentoring relationships need time to develop.

Mentoring was a new role for the mentors, while being mentored was a new experience for the teachers. The reflective processes teachers were being encouraged to engage in were similarly novel. In such circumstances, where both mentors and teachers are working together in new ways, it is important that they have sufficient time to develop their relationship. Mentors and mentees both need to stay motivated and committed over a sustained period of time in order for the mentoring programme to start having a positive impact on teachers’ classroom practices. Strategies which keep everyone motivated can contribute to the success of initiatives of this kind.

3. Online communities can enhance engagement and motivation.

Social media was one strategy that was used in ELISS to sustain participants’ motivation; WhatsApp and Facebook maximised contact between the mentors and their teachers as well as among the mentors themselves. Participants found the process of sharing ideas and seeking support from their colleagues highly motivating and the online groups created a common sense of purpose among individuals (especially the mentors) who rarely (after the initial mentor training) met in person. Social media channels were particularly important for those mentors and teachers who were working in remote areas.

A further study into the impact of the ELISS training and mentoring model is underway and will be reported later in the year. The study will look more deeply into the role of mentors in ELISS, the successes they have had and the challenges they and their mentees have faced.

About the authors

Simon Borg (simon-borg.co.uk) is an ELT consultant specialising in the design, delivery and evaluation of teacher professional development.

Jon Parnham is Senior Academic Manager at the British Council in Mumbai, West India.

References

Asención Delaney, Y. (2012). Research on mentoring language teachers: Its role in language education. Foreign Language Annals, 45(SUPPL.1), s184-s202.

Gulamhussein, A. (2013). Teaching the teachers: Effective professional development in an era of high stakes accountability. Alexandria, VA: Center for Public Education and the National Schools Boards Association.

Hayes, D. (2000). Cascade training and teachers’ professional development. ELT Journal, 54(2), 135–145.

Kennedy, A. (2005). Models of continuing professional development: A framework for analysis. Journal of In-Service Education, 31(2), 235-250.

Malderez, A., and Bodoczky, C. (1999). Mentor courses: A resource book for teacher trainers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

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